What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies. The term also refers to any formidable form of competition or rivalry, and has even been used in political discourse to describe a close election.

The equine industry’s inability to address the fact that thousands of young animals die every year while they are being pushed to perform and then slaughtered is a moral disgrace. The sport must start by establishing an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all ex-racehorses who leave the track. Instead, many of them hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline, where they are often given a Facebook post and a small window of time to be “bailed.” Those that don’t make it typically face a horrific end — either in Mexico or Canada, where they are sometimes subjected to arbitrary and outrageous ransom demands.

In addition, the industry must stop allowing trainers and owners to use dangerous and experimental drugs on horses. The drug testing protocol that was implemented in 2020 has been a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough to save this dying industry. Until racing stops using illegal, harmful and addictive substances on its horses, it will continue to suffer from a public perception that it is crooked and dishonest.

Horses used for racing are forced to run—often under the threat of whips and illegal electric-shocking devices—at speeds that can cause catastrophic injuries, gruesome breakdowns and hemorrhage from their lungs. This is hell for the animals, but it’s also heaven for the human spectators who cheer them on, sip mint juleps and wear fancy outfits while they do so.

Despite the best efforts of veterinarians and trainers, the reality is that horses still die in this sport. The death of Eight Belles in 2009 and the more recent loss of star-crossed Medina Spirit have sparked a reckoning with the ethics of the industry. But while donations by racing fans and gamblers are essential, they do not cancel out participation in the ongoing exploitation of younger runners who will eventually be the ones who rely on those donations too.

It is easy to confuse hostility toward PETA with dismissal of its work, which in reality reflects the skepticism about animal welfare in general. Virtually no one outside of racing cares how activists get undercover video; they only care about the content. And that video is damning. It reveals an ugly truth about horse racing, a business that is characterized by injuries, addictions and gruesome deaths for its human customers. It’s time to change that. The future of this sport depends on it.